February 8, 2011

Chopin: count it happiness, indeed, to live

Katherine O'Flaherty was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 8, 1850 (some sources incorrectly list her birth year as 1851). She would be remembered as Kate Chopin after her 1870 marriage to Oscar Chopin, known as the author of the feminist novel The Awakening (1899). Her earliest published work, however, was a poem. "If It Might Be" was published in 1889 in the Chicago-based magazine America.

Chopin suffered depression after the death of her husband and, shortly after, her mother. Left in debt, her late husband's business failed and she moved back to St. Louis after living in New Orleans. A family friend and physician suggested she turn to writing. She was prolific as a prose writer, often detailing conflicted emotions as a woman. Of her poems, however, only about 20 survive, including "If It Might Be":

If it might be that thou didst need my life;
Now on the instant would I end this strife
'Twixt hope and fear, and glad the end I'd meet
With wonder only, to find death so sweet.

If it might be that thou didst need my love;
To love thee dear, my life's fond work would prove.
All time, to tender watchfulness I'd give;
And count it happiness, indeed, to live.

*Recommended reading: Unveiling Kate Chopin (1999) by Emily Toth and, of course, Chopin's outstanding novel The Awakening.

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